Speech by Brian Mitchell MP - National Reconstruction Fund

I'm proud to have the opportunity to speak on the National Reconstruction Fund Corporation Bill 2022. This bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation this House will deal with. The Albanese government was elected on a mandate to drive the transformation of Australian industry and revive our nation's ability to make world-class products in Australia. This bill delivers on that mandate.

The National Reconstruction Fund will oversee one of the largest investments in our country's history: $15 billion to invest in independently assessed projects that will support, diversify and transform Australia's industry and economy. The NRF will assist Australian industry, including in regional areas, such as in my own electorate of Lyons, to seize new growth opportunities. It will do that by providing finance for projects that add value, improve productivity and support transformation. Investment in these activities will help create secure, high-value jobs for Australians and strengthen our future prosperity.

The bill we have before the House establishes the NRFC as a new corporate Commonwealth entity; establishes the NRFC independent board; outlines the functions and powers of the corporation; sets out the financial, personnel and governance arrangements; and establishes the power of the minister to issue an investment mandate to guide the investment strategy of the NRFC and declare the priority areas of the Australian economy.

The fund will provide finance, including loans, guarantees and equity, to drive investments in seven priority areas of the Australian economy. These leverage Australia's natural and competitive strengths and support the development of strategically important industries and shore up those critical supply lines. The seven priority areas are, first, value-add in resources: expand Australia's mining science technology and ensure a greater share of raw materials extracted are processed domestically—for example, high-purity alumina from red mud in bauxite processing, or lithium processing for batteries. If we mine it here, we should make it here. Second, value-add in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors: unlock potential and value-add to raw materials in sectors like food processing, textiles, and clothing and footwear manufacturing. Third, transport: develop capabilities in transport manufacturing and supply chains, including for cars, trains and shipbuilding. How fantastic would that be, after seeing those industries driven out of this country by those opposite? Fourth, medical science: leverage Australia's world-leading research to provide essential supplies such as medical devices, personal protective equipment, medicines and vaccines. There is no lesson greater than what we've lived through with the COVID pandemic in ensuring that Australia has sovereign capability in that critical area of medical science and supplies. Fifth, renewables and low-emissions technologies: pursue commercial opportunities, including from components for wind turbines; production of batteries and solar panels; new livestock feed to reduce methane emissions—and a shout-out to my electorate, where we're developing seaweed additives, which make a big difference in that regard; modernising steel and aluminium; hydrogen electrolysers; and innovative packaging solutions to reduce waste. Sixth, defence capability: maximise the sourcing of requirements from Australian suppliers employing Australian workers, whether they are technology, infrastructure and skills—and, of course, the Minister for Defence and the Prime Minister have received the DSR, which I'm sure will go into this as well. Seventh, enabling capabilities: supporting key enabling capabilities across engineering; data science; software development, including in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics and the quantum area.

I'm particularly excited about the opportunities that the National Reconstruction Fund presents for regional Australia and, of course, my own state of Tasmania. My home state of Tasmania has a long history of manufacturing innovation. Indeed, the hydroelectric scheme in Tasmania is just one example. Manufacturing is the sixth-largest industry in Tasmania, generating $1.9 billion and employing 17,000 people. Tasmania's manufacturing sector is globally competitive on food and beverage processing, smart technologies, forestry, maritime and defence. It offers high value across the whole state and, of course, is a critical employer. Tasmanian manufacturing is part of the global production supply chain which attracts and supports globally competitive companies, including large-scale corporations such as Caterpillar, Elphinstone, Cadbury and McCain Foods.

We also have some fantastic manufacturing operations in my own electorate specifically, from small-scale facilities to global operations—for example, Orion Australia, a family owed business in the Meander Valley that manufactures guaranteed water tanks and storage bins; or Kings Outdoor Living, manufacturing custom-made outdoor products for both residential and commercial customers from their facility in Sorell. Another fantastic example is Tasbuilt, also in the Meander Valley, specialising in custom designed commercial modular buildings manufactured in Westbury. On a larger scale, Norske Skog, the only manufacturer of newsprint grades of paper in Australia, operates the Boyer mill in the Derwent Valley, producing around 260,000 tonnes of newsprint, improved newsprint, book grades and lightweight coated grades annually. These are just the kinds of operations that can benefit from the NRF, and there are so many others. I look forward to seeing what we can achieve in Tasmanian manufacturing and, indeed, Australian manufacturing as a whole with the type of investment and support the NRF can provide.

We know we need to revitalise manufacturing after a decade of neglect from those opposite. The Liberals had nine industry ministers in as many years, and they left Australia's manufacturing industry in tatters. They had nine ministers who stood there in this place and baited the Australian car industry into leaving the country, and it did. The opposition has a choice: a choice to help us revitalise manufacturing or to turn their backs once again on Australian manufacturers and Australian workers who work in manufacturing. The Labor government's focus is on renewing, revitalising and rebuilding Australia's manufacturing industry for Australians: for small-business owners, for the regions and for jobs.

For too long, while those opposite were in government, decisions were made in the narrow political interests of them and their mates and not in the broader national interest. Maybe that's why they oppose it: it's just too hard to rorts. The NRF and its funding decisions will be independent. It will be administered at arm's length from government by an independent board, appointed jointly by the Minister for Industry and Science and the Minister for Finance, that will make independent decisions about investments in Australia's best interests. The National Reconstruction Fund will be modelled on the successful Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which the Liberals also opposed, claiming it would be a financial disaster, but which has in fact invested around $11 billion in Australia's transition to net zero, leveraging $2.61 of private sector investment for every dollar of government funding. This government will provide guidance on expectations and policy priorities through a legislative instrument and an investment mandate. The NRF board will independently make investment decisions and manage its investment portfolio to achieve both the NRF's objectives and a positive portfolio rate of return, free from political influence. There won't be a colour coded spreadsheet in sight. No wonder those opposite oppose it. There's no gaming to be had.

The Albanese Labor government want Australia to be a place that makes things again, and we know Australians want that too—a place with our own industrial and manufacturing capabilities, and a place where men and women can build things to be proud of. We all remember the footage and photos of Ben Chifley with the first Holdens coming off the assembly line. That is etched in our history and our national psyche, with pride. Those opposite drove that industry out of the country. We want to bring manufacturing back. Manufacturing matters because it creates full-time work and secure jobs, it helps the security of families and it serves our national interest.

Labor understands we need both sovereign borders and sovereign capability. If we mine it here, we should make it here. If our brightest minds are able to think, create and develop ideas, they shouldn't have to go offshore. If we invent it here, we should make it here. We saw through the pandemic how supply chains stretched. Supply chains were taken for granted for so long. They stretched and then they snapped, and products that we'd come to rely on as a matter of course simply disappeared. Labor heeds this lesson, while the Liberals foolishly ignore it.

This Labor government will revitalise manufacturing after a decade of Liberal neglect. We will rebuild our nation's sovereign capability. The assembly lines will be switched on again. The $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund is a key platform to support, diversify and transform Australia's industries and provide a pathway to more sustainable, well-paying jobs. This bill and the investment mandate guiding investments will make sure the $15 billion fund drives Australia's natural inclination towards innovation.

There's no greater example of this than what I spoke about yesterday in the Federation Chamber with the Australian Space Agency and their investment in the Greenhill Observatory in my electorate, where we have upgraded the communications capabilities of the observatory. It can now not only track satellites but communicate with them. There are many thousands of satellites up there—it's getting pretty crowded up there!—that need to be recalibrated and have their trajectories changed. Tasmania is part of this global effort. I saw in the press just yesterday the deputy administrator of NASA in the US calling for space technology to be treated as a sustained investment and as a strategic priority. This government's NRF will fund, subject to the board, of course, technology innovation in space development because we know it is a growing area and a strategic priority.

My electorate, Lyons, is a big agricultural seat in Tasmania, and here we are playing our part in the development of 21st century space innovation and tech. It's this sort of innovation that will lead us into the future and provide a future for the students and graduates of the University of Tasmania in space technology. So I commend this bill to the House. It's one of the most important pieces of legislation this House is dealing with. It delivers on a key election commitment this government made coming into government. It's fantastic for the country, it's fantastic for manufacturing jobs and it's fantastic for the regions.